Senior Researcher Hanna Pirinen received the innovation award at the University’s annual celebration on 6 March. The award is granted to a JYU employee for laudable work that has led to a commercial application based on research findings and expertise. Hanna Pirinen was leading a work group composed of experts of different fields, which later evolved into an internationally operating business, RECENART.
Everything started just a few years ago when members of the art history discipline at the University of Jyväskylä realised that there were hardly any services available for dating, authenticating and determining the origin of works of art. The art trade was based largely on trust and art experts’ subjective views about the authenticity of a work of art. Visual assessment by experts has lost credibility in recent years, however, after a number of large-scale forgery cases have become public.
“There were hardly any services available for art investors, foundations, banks and insurance companies to verify the authenticity of works of art,” explains Hanna Pirinen. “The few existing services were very limited, typically relying on a single person and research instrument. There was a need for a service concept of a higher quality.”
“We sat down with a small group to think about what kinds of expertise would be needed and whom we know. By asking practical questions and through discussions we started to find suitable collaboration partners from within the University.”
What emerged was a real dream team of experts from art history, natural sciences and information technology. For commercialisation, the project staff was guided by Research and Innovation Services, and the project was launched with funding from Tekes and JYU. In all, the project has received project funding of more than 1.1 million euros, of which 70% came from Tekes and 30% from the University.
“The most difficult thing was to convince TEKES that there is international demand for our service concept,” says Pirinen about the early stages of the project. “We drew on our international network and found pilot customers from as far away as Singapore, which then convinced the financer.”
Pirinen is an experienced project leader, who used her expertise and managerial skills to successfully integrate experts from different fields of science into a cohesive team and bring the multidisciplinary project to completion. The support from TEKES was important as well, and required engaging in open dialogue.
“It was challenging to learn to take the commercial approach, to think what the customer needs, not what would be scientifically interesting. “And,” she adds, to make it a scalable business as well.”
“It has been great to notice that just at the right moment our expertise generated a high-quality service concept with such a great demand in the international market.”
Pirinen advises that anyone considering the commercialisation of research findings should take a broader view beyond one’s own department and look at the neighbouring departments and faculties. It also calls for a lot of creativity and open-mindedness. Interpersonal contacts and discussions help move things forward. It is good to remember, however, that not all dreams can always come true.
In summer 2018 RECENART was merged with Art Analysis & Research, a company specialized in technical investigations of paintings. The company now has agencies in Muurame, London, New York and Austin. It responds to the demands of the art market all around the world.